Accessibility links

Breaking News

Targeting of Journalists Covering Russia Raises Alarms

FILE — U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands in a defendants' cage at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, April 18, 2023. German authorities have said they are investigating an apparent poisoning of an exiled Russian journalist in Munich.

German authorities have said they are investigating an apparent poisoning of an exiled Russian journalist in Munich.

Elena Kostyuchenko, who had worked for the independent Russian media outlet Novaya Gazeta, fell ill with symptoms of being poisoned while traveling from Munich to Berlin last October.

Authorities reopened the investigation into the case in July, according to the British newspaper The Guardian. The inquiry comes as details emerged that two other female journalists or critics experienced similar symptoms.

The independent Russian media outlet The Insider this week revealed that at least three exiled Russians, including Kostyuchenko, appear to have been targeted with poisonings.

About a week after Kostyuchenko reported symptoms, Ekho Moskvy journalist Irina Babloyan had a similar experience while in Georgia, and Natalia Arno, head of the Free Russia Foundation, was affected by what The Insider described as a neurotoxic substance while she was in Prague.

In an interview this week with VOA's Russian Service, Roman Dobrokhotov, founder and editor in chief of The Insider, said his team's work on the case was just the beginning.

"Our publication is dictated by the desire to warn [exiled] Russian journalists and activists so that they realize that they need to think about their safety, that there is a real threat to their life and health," Dobrokhotov said.

Reporters covered war in Ukraine

Kostyuchenko had reported on Russia's war in Ukraine, including in Kherson, until one of her sources in the Ukraine military warned her of a possible assassination attempt, according to media reports.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on authorities in Georgia and Germany to treat the suspected attacks "with the utmost seriousness."

"Reports that Russian journalists Elena Kostyuchenko and Irina Babloyan may have been poisoned in Germany and Georgia are extremely alarming, and must be investigated at once," CPJ's Carlos Martinez de la Serna said in a statement.

He called on both countries to "do all they can to safeguard the lives of journalists living in exile."

Russian journalists fled after edicts

Many independent Russian journalists have fled since the war in Ukraine began, after Moscow imposed heavy sanctions and edicts on how media can report the war.

Moscow has also targeted foreign journalists. American reporter Evan Gershkovich marked his 20th week in prison this week.

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested while on assignment on March 29 and was accused of espionage — a charge he and his media outlet denied.

And this week, Russia declined to renew media accreditation for two foreign journalists: Eva Hartog, who works for Politico and a Dutch weekly news publication, and Anna-Lena Lauren, a Finnish reporter who had worked in Russia for 16 years.

In Hartog's case, a spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry said on social media that its decision to not extend a visa for someone from the Netherlands should not raise questions "given the harassment of Russian journalists and media outlets by the EU."

Moscow has also previously cited treatment of Russian journalists, including for media accreditation, for its decision to limit U.S. consular visits to Gershkovich.

VOA's Russian Service contributed to this report.